Greek mythology is a body of stories concerning the gods, rituals and heroes told by ancient Greeks. These stories told the origin and nature of the world, the lives and activities of deities, heroes, mythological creatures, and the origins of the ancient Greeks’ own cult and ritual practices, much like our African folklore which was told around a fire.
The knowledge of Greek mythology by scholars had a wide influence on the culture, arts, and literature of western civilisation and remains part of western heritage and language.
Many of the Greek tales made for excellent reading although it was acknowledged by scholars such as the philosopher Plato, that the tales contained a considerable element of fiction.
The Roman god Bacchus was essentially a copy of the Greek god Dionysus. They represent the same symbology and myths.
Dionysus is the god of grape-harvest, winemaking and wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre in Greek religion and myth.
Bacchus was the son of the almighty god of all Roman gods, Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology). Jupiter was the all-powerful, overseeing god who happened to have a roaming eye for pretty women, a trait that his wife, Juno (Hera), was less than pleased with.
The risk of destroying his matrimonial home did not, unsurprisingly, deter him from conducting numerous dalliances and affairs, all of which Juno inevitably discovered and punished the counterparties with a vengeance.
Bacchus’ mother happened to be one such unsuspecting soul. Semele was a pretty mortal. She attracted the attention of Jupiter and in the process, she carried his child.
Upon hearing of her husband’s most recent escapade of unfaithfulness, Juno appeared before Semele in the guise of an old crone and commented upon her flourishing bump, questioning who the father was.
Semele was delighted to confide in her that the child she bore was the offspring of Jupiter and would, therefore, be semidivine.
Unfortunately, Juno, (who had known this all along) feigned disbelief and berated Semele for telling such lies. Her reasoning was: why would the supreme god deem to solicit the favours of a mere mortal woman like herself?
Juno’s performance was so convincing that Semele fell into a state of despair, doubting herself until she believed the crone’s words and felt sure that Jupiter could not be the true father of her child and that she had been duped by a dishonest rogue. Her distress was such that Juno suggested the only way to know for certain whether Jupiter was the father was to ask him to reveal himself in his full divine glory. The next time Semele encountered Jupiter (they continued the affair every full moon) she asked him to make her a promise. Having agreed, Jupiter was distraught to hear his beloved Semele asking him to show himself as a true god.
A god’s promise cannot be broken and tragically a mortal cannot witness a god in their divine state without dying. It was Juno’s perfect revenge.
As Jupiter revealed himself in a glorious burst of light, Semele was struck dead by the sight. Grieving for the child that she carried, Jupiter cut out the baby’s heart from Semele’s body and sewn it onto his thigh — that is surely fiction.
Some months later, Jupiter “gave birth” to his son Bacchus. Understandably Juno was furious and she cursed the infant Bacchus.
Bacchus spent his childhood training under Silenus, a great lover of wine.
As he developed his close connection to nature and the vine, Juno cast her long-awaited revenge, driving Bacchus into madness. His destiny was to wander the globe in a state of delusion and hysteria. However, the goddess Cybele (Rhea in Greek) took pity on Bacchus and although she could not fully reverse the curse of Juno, she taught him religious rites and bade him to teach his knowledge of cultivating vines to those he encountered in his travels.
He soon cultivated a following as the effects of his beloved liquid delighted all those that tasted it.
Bacchus is often depicted with a procession of wild female maenads and bearded satyrs who are bedecked in wreaths of ivy and have serpents in their hair.
The twist in the tale is that our multifaceted semidivine being holds a dark secret. He is certainly applauded for his gaiety and his wine’s ability to free his followers from any self-consciousness or fear (he is sometimes referred to as “the liberator”) but Bacchus also holds the reigns to chaos, debauchery and danger. His intoxicating liquid releases those who drink it from the restraints of their meagre everyday lives and encourages wanton disregard of the law, obligation and societal confinements. With every sip, it is said the drinker embodies the spirit of Bacchus, including the part of him which was driven to madness.
Despite this dark, precarious and erratic side of Bacchus, the other gods loved him and to Juno’s horror, wished him to join the Olympian 12.
This was the ultimate power council at the top of Mount Olympus, but there were only 12 chairs and all were occupied. In a twist of fate Vesta (Hestia) the virgin goddess of hearth and home gave up her seat for Bacchus.
As we lurch from one crisis into another, one white elephant project into another, one unfulfilled promise into another, I get the feeling that the spirit of Bacchus is truly with us.
We need to get out of this drunken stupor and wake up to the reality that all is not well.